iOS 8: Power to the iPad

iOS 7 was the largest upgrade to iOS ever. It brought along a completely new design language on both the iPhone and iPad, and unlocked various APIs that have made applications more useful and powerful. It also introduced new technologies and APIs, such as iBeacon, that should become only more useful as time goes on.

In terms of usability, however, it offered no major advances for the iPad. In a world where tablets are increasingly being used in lieu of laptops, iOS on the iPad needs to mature, and fast.

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iPhone First

According to reports from people with fantastic records, iOS 7 was designed for the iPhone first. After Scott Forstall, the previous chief of iOS and its design, was fired last year, Jony Ive and his team of designers had a behemoth task to accomplish. They had literally months to give iOS a completely new coat of paint, in addition to the planned features.

iOS 7 on the iPad is pretty, but not necessarily better for power users.

iOS 7 on the iPad is pretty, but not necessarily better for power users.

The iPhone version took precedence. That decision makes sense; after all of the success of the iPad, the iPhone (and iPod touch) remain the more popular devices.

This decision was never publicly announced, though it is in evidence in certain places. For instance, the iOS 7 for iPad beta was delayed by two weeks after WWDC. Even today, many would say that iOS 7 on the iPad (and particularly on the third-generation iPad) is far from the usual level of polish Apple bestows upon their products.

A Deficit of Attention

Even one of the most important changes to the iPhone version of the software hasn’t carried over: the universal swipe-to-go-back gesture is nowhere to be found on the iPad. This simple gesture has quickly become a favorite feature for many as more apps adopt it.

Certain screens appear oddly stretched to fit the iPad's larger display.

Certain screens appear oddly stretched to fit the iPad’s larger display.

The modal pop-up dialog box on the iPad under iOS 7 is borderline farcical. This single UI element highlights much of what is wrong with iOS on the iPad. Despite having been around since 2010, iOS on an iPad still feels like a phone OS. I would argue that iOS 7 actually compounded the problem, as it eliminated certain UI elements like Notification Center and Siri that didn’t take up the full screen, in favor of adopting the same system seen on the iPhone.

Can iOS 8 Change This?

iOS 8 isn’t due until mid-to-late 2014. I’m not trying to start rumors about the upcoming OS. In all likelihood, it will contain the slew of small improvements and tweaks that are — admittedly — needed post-iOS 7. It will probably include stability fixes, as well as new APIs for developers.

Personally, I hope that Apple takes the time to truly fit iOS to the iPad. Give us some way to have multiple apps on display. The power is there, particularly in the latest generation of devices. That A7 chipset offers desktop performance, according to Apple themselves. That power should be put to use beyond just making sure that games run flawlessly.

Someone Will Solve the Problem

I do not believe that the problem of running a powerful OS on a tablet has been solved yet. Windows 8.1 tries, and is close in many ways, but it stumbles in certain use cases. Android on a tablet is in a similar place to iOS: it is essentially a phone OS, enlarged. It has the benefit of having more open APIs for developers to plug in to, but the detractor of having a serious lack of quality tablet apps.

Siri for iOS 7 is a good example of a part of the OS that has been blown up for the iPad, instead of being redesigned.

Siri for iOS 7 is a good example of a part of the OS that has been blown up for the iPad, instead of being redesigned.

With iOS 8, Apple has a chance to once again pull ahead. They have the tools necessary, and they have the hardware capability to do it. Even just being able to reference an email while drafting a report would make the iPad infinitely more useful to so many people.

Of course, multiple apps on-screen is only one way to make iOS more powerful on the tablet. Other methods exist, and Apple’s brilliant engineers and designers can certainly dream up fantastic new use cases. If the company is serious about maintaining a lead in the growing tablet space, the software that powers the iPad must become more capable.